I wish I had better news to share with everyone. As it turns out this tour in New Mexico was much like my earlier visit. We hunted this week on the same ranch that I had previously archery hunted and we saw very few elk. We weren’t without opportunity however, as two out of the three hunters had chances on bulls. I shared camp this week with David Dillon and Brad Yeomans from Gore, Kevin Sloan from Sitka, and Outdoor Writer and hunter Bob Robb.
The best opportunity to report happened when I was hunting with David Dillon. This was his second elk hunt. He had previously harvested a six point bull in Colorado. After the first morning, we spoke about what his goals were for the hunt… “Any spot and stalk bull, I just want to see a bull before he sees us and make a successful stalk.” I thought for sure we would his reach his goal on this trip. On the morning of day 2, we found a great bull. Problem was, we weren’t positive if he was on the ranch. We watched the bull for around an hour until he fed out of sight 2000+ yards away. We were hopeful he was headed to bed down for the afternoon. I took a bunch of photos of the ridge before leaving so we could pinpoint his location via the maps and aerial images back at camp. What did we find out? He WAS on the ranch.
We were stoked. This bull was easily in the 320″ to 330″ range and definitely the biggest I’d seen here yet. We made our plan over a quick lunch and went after him that afternoon. On our evenings hunt, we found nothing, not hide nor hair. Everyone was a little bummed sitting around the fire that night, wondering where this bull had gone. Would we even see him again? I outwardly maintained a positive attitude, but more often than not, if you don’t kill a bull when you see them, you’ll never get a second chance.
The next day, we decided to repeat the previous mornings hunt in hopes of finding the bull again. This time Kevin Sloan would be joining us. Sloan was still recovering from a recent bout with H1N1 and he still hunted hard each day. We were stoked to have his eyes with us because we’d be lucky to find this bull again. We left the truck about 45 minutes before first light and headed into the narrow coulee we had ascended the previous morning. It was a cold dawn, but the pace of our climb kept me nice and warm. We anxiously awaited the sunrise to begin our search for the bull. Initially it wasn’t looking good. We made our way along the ridgeline scanning into the pine and pinon covered finger coulees and ridges below. We didn’t see anything for 10 minutes. I was too focused on the country below and hadn’t taken any time to glass across the draw onto the opposite fingers…. yet. I had my Leicas focused on the hillside for less than 5 seconds. There he was, standing perfectly in the sun on one of the ridges… I put down my binos and looked at the boys. “I got him.”
Following the turn of events from the day before, we didn’t want this bull to get out of our sight again. We sat down on the ridge, put the 15’s on the herd and watched them for a few minutes hoping to forecast their next move. It was time to make a run. Only problem… the bull was around 2 miles away. Sloan worked his way down the ridge keeping an eye on the bull in case we lost him. This was Dillon’s stalk and he was amped for the attempt to fulfill his goal. The race was on.
Nothing can quite prepare you for these type of runs. When the bull is already heading in the opposite direction the chances are pretty slim. We pinpointed the coulee we needed to race down below us and the ridge on the other side we had to race up. We hurdled creek bed crevasses and skied down 30′ hard open hillsides. We stopped to breathe twice and shedded a layer once. David had trained hard for this moment and practiced with his gun religiously for months prior to the hunt… I turned to him as we made our final approach… “All your hard work comes down to the next 5 minutes.”
We caught up to the bull near the top of the ridge after a 50 yard wind sprint uphill. There he was…. on his last break before the trees…. 135 yards quartering away… looking the other direction . David raised his rifle with no time for a solid rest. Crack! The wild run from the opposite hillside seemed so fast and the 10 seconds surrounding the shot will forever seem like an eternity. David’s shot sailed high and the bull walked away unscathed.. We never saw him again. Talk about an experience, twenty wild minutes that we’ll never forget.
Next stop on the Live Hunt is Montana Elk and Deer with my rifle. I’m looking forward to coming home.